New Mass Market Book Format?

I was in Walmart this weekend and two of the titles in their woefully science-fictionless mass market paperback section caught my eye. One was a Tom Clancy franchise book-of-the-week, the other was Dark Demon by Christine Feehan. The reason they caught my eye was because they were of odd dimension. The height and width of the cover was bizarre. They were skinnier but taller. It was weird. (Check out the Amazon image and browse inside to see a sample of the printing.)

I didn’t get get a chance to sample the format by reading it, but it now occurs to me that being more like a newspaper column might lend itself to faster reading since your eyes need less left/right scanning. Of course, I’m sure it has something to do with fitting more books on a shelf rather than something as profitless as reading speed. But the fact that I saw two of them makes me wonder if this is going to be a new publishing format on par with – or even replacing – mass-market paperback.

8 thoughts on “New Mass Market Book Format?”

  1. I was told that it was to get the type sizes larger while still being able to fit the books into the regular racks. The thinking is that, as the average age of readers goes up, it’s best to keep the eye strain down. I’ve only seen a few of these books out in the wild but the ones I’ve seen have had a starburst on them touting “Larger Print!”

  2. I’ve seen a few of them too. Most particularly, I saw one of Stephen King’s books (I believe it was the final Dark Tower paperback) done in this newer, taller format.

    I’m a curmudgeon when it comes to change, so I looked at them and Did Not Like Them At All. However, I really like what you suggest, that it improves reading speed by making it more newspaper like. That’s a wonderful idea.

    Now I’ll have to go poke at them and see what I think of them in that light.

    Mostly, I’ll keep buying trade paperbacks, though. I always thought that was an ideal format.

  3. It was Michael Cader of Publishers Lunch (an e-mail newsletter that doesn’t seem to be archived anywhere) and Publishers Marketplace that coined the term “upperbacks” in about 2004.

    There isn’t a common industry term for them otherwise; they’re basically “more-expensive mass-markets” or “medium-level paperbacks.” The point seem to be to charge a little more money on some books, to see if the market will take it.

    (A similar new format, mass-market sized trade paperbacks, was rolled out briefly in the mid ’90s and was a quick failure, but it looks like upperbacks are at least a modest success.)

    And that’s about all of my knowledge of them; I’m from a very different end of the publishing world, myself…

  4. “A similar new format, mass-market sized trade paperbacks, was rolled out briefly in the mid ’90s and was a quick failure,”

    In Australia they’re just about all we get. Big name authors appear in large TPB and Hardcover, but everyone else is MM TPD size. (We don’t have the disposable/strippable MM books here.)

  5. I saw my first one months ago and didn’t like it. Bookseller Chick called them Venti” premium paperback. I think I read a comment somewhere that the type wasn’t significantly different, but I didn’t look closely at the one I saw. They seem like a gimmick to me, and like they’d be more of a pain to read (& easier to crack the binding). I’ll give them a pass, if I can. ;-)

  6. Do you reckon it’s supposed to make the title look sort of “premium”? A friend of mine bought a paperback of the hi-brow title “The Lovely Bones” at the grocery store, and it was an odd size.

    Actually it was a very *nice* size, closer to a square than a rectangle, making it easier to hold in one hand. These upperback thingies, on the other hand, look like they’d be harder to hold open with a thumb and pinkie.

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